I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies—and, of course, Covid-19.
Today’s issue of the Sunday newsletter open to free members of EV as well as paid-for subscribers. If you like what you see please become a member of Exponential View. Group and education discounts are available (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information).
The near future
👽 The 90% economy. Excellent write-up in The Economist on where the economy is likely to go: “[S]maller than that which came before. But its strangeness will be more than a matter of size.” (One presage of how strange: Eton, the world’s poshest school, is considering sponsoring state-funded schools around the United Kingdom.)
Another example of strangeness: the cost of adaptation. Amazon’s sales rose $75.5bn for the quarter, a year on year increase of 26%. But the company noted it would need to spend $4bn, on top of $750m already spent, on measures to keep workers healthy and products moving next quarter. This would wipe out profits.
Big tech does have a tightrope to walk though, points out Politico as the pandemic has unmasked just how powerful these firms are.
🧪 An excellent graphical guide to the race for a coronavirus vaccine. Read it alongside this simply excellent explainer, which explores how long it will really take to develop a vaccine. (tl;dr Under normal circumstances 15 years or so. We’re aiming for 10 to 12 times faster.)
👕 What is happening to global supply chains in the apparel industry post-Covid-19 and the impact of automation on that vulnerable labour force. I discussed this with Fung Group’s Pamela Mar. The Bangladeshi garment industry, a source of income for over four million people and one of the major pillars of the economy, is facing a crisis as British retailers cancel orders valued at £2.5 billion.
👪 I discuss ageing societies and intergenerational cleavages with Camilla Cavendish, former Director of Policy for David Cameron, and author of Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World.
🖨️Our latest Friday discussion for members focused on the future of the workplace. What does the switch to remote work mean for the way in which companies are managed? What tools are you using to help bridge the gap between yourself and your colleagues? What does this mean for real estate? (If you enjoyed that discussion, I recommend reading Catherine Nixey’s excellent essay on the death of the office: “office-work takes up not merely the bulk of our time but the best part of it, the hours when we are alert and alive.”)
Dept of Computation
This section is open to members only. Here, I cover:
- Facebook’s new realistic chatbot
- OpenAI’s AI musician—it’s quite cool
- How quant hedge funds have struggled in the pandemic market.
⚠️ Climate breakdown: 417.21ppm | 3,679 days
Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.
The latest measurement (as of April 29): 417.21 ppm; April 1, 2019: 411.69ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this. This is the highest measurement ever. Let’s not lose sight of that.
🌞Boom! A new record for utility-scale solar, at 1.35c/kWh.
EV reader, Akshat Rathi: “Coal’s end is inevitable with many coal plants running at a loss.”
🚢 Around 60 clean fuel tankers are waiting off the coast of Singapore as the price of oil worldwide drops and the industry undergoes turmoil (there’s usually 30-40). (EV reader, Claus Nehmzow is helping the poor crews stranded on such ships, see the WYAUT section below.)
It isn’t just oil that is parked at sea, 2000 SUVs were also stranded on ships off the shore of California.
Charts of the week
Although South Korea largely contained Covid-19, sales in its department stores plunged by 40% Y-o-Y. Fear has spread, even if the virus didn’t.
Short morsels to appear smart in quarantine
This yummy section is open to members only.
I was pleased to see Microsoft’s Satya Nadella call for greater global coordination between nations and the tech giants in the Financial Times. I laid out why that was important and some of the key considerations, in a member’s letter two weeks earlier. It strikes me that figuring out how we integrate these global technology network utilities into the international system is a major conundrum to solve in the coming months and years. (I’ve discussed this with a number of people including Tony Blair, Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, and David Runciman.)
It’s a theme we’ll need to return to regularly.
What you’re up to—notes from EV readers
Jyri Engestrom arranged for the entire town of Bolinas to be tested for Covid-19.
Steve Hsu wrote about false positives in serological tests for Covid-19.
Ali Jiwani is building a virtual happy hour platform.
William Perrin blogged about misinformation and Covid-19, as well as how tech companies are adapting in interesting ways.
Christian Quaresma’s team offers free webinars to support educators in remote teaching efforts.
Charles Yang on AI-powered SaaS as Science As A Service.
Louis Strauss’ team at 6clicks launched a new mobile app designed for team-based risk identification, assessment and review.
Quint Emmett’s company, Important, Not Important, was nominated for two Webby Awards. You can vote to support Quint here.
A number of discussions on the future of AI:
On decarbonisation and climate change